Awareness of mental health issues have ramped up over the last decade, with a lot of focus on the role workplaces play in maintaining good mental health. Open discussions about burnout and what employers can do to support workers with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety have become more acceptable. In Canada, Bell was one of the trailblazers in this space, launching Bell Let’s Talk Day in 2011. It’s since become an annual event that raises millions of dollars for organizations that support people with mental health issues.

However, mental health remains a touchy subject in many workplaces. Despite heightened general awareness, there’s still a stigma, especially at work. Employers often don’t know how to approach discussions about mental health, and so they sweep concerns under the rug, leaving employees to deal with the fallout on their own. Openly addressing mental health is an absolute necessity to maintain a happy, safe workplace. Here are 4 ways ignoring mental health can damage your brand and workplace culture.

the risks of ignoring mental health in the workplace
the risks of ignoring mental health in the workplace

productivity declines

According to a study by CAMH, poor workplace mental health practices cost Canadian employers $51 billion annually. Most of that comes in the form of sick leave, disability expenses, and ‘presenteeism’ (or the practice of employees showing up to work and not working at their full potential). The burden of mental health can be reduced (on both employers and employees) by being proactive. Having mental health resources and support available in your workplace ensures mental health issues are addressed and support is given before the problem reaches a critical mass. Workers need to feel safe bringing up their mental health concerns and setting work-life boundaries. When workers feel empowered to speak up about issues that are causing them stress and how their leaders can best support them, everyone wins.

employee burnout

Technology has made it virtually impossible for workers in most office jobs to escape all elements of their work, even when they’re off the clock. Phone push notifications alert workers about every email or text message from their boss, no matter the time of day. Cloud storage has made it possible for workers to seamlessly work on documents from anywhere in the world, including at home and after hours. The clear division that once existed between home and work doesn’t exist in modern workplaces. It’s not possible to leave work at 5 pm and leave everything behind knowing you’ll pick it up in the morning when you return. That’s led to a proliferation in burnout culture, where employees feel pressure to be always ‘on’ and don’t have sufficient downtime to recharge their batteries so they can come to work ready to perform at their best. It’s important to set clear boundaries and expectations so employees feel safe taking the time they need to tend to their mental health and well-being.

poor retention

Poor mental health practices can kill your employee retention rates. Any HR professional will tell you that higher than average turnover is a red flag signaling that your organization has a culture problem. Toxic work cultures often stem from poor treatment of employees, either at an organizational level or on a managerial level. If your employees are regularly stressed, burnt out, and feeling stretched thin, it’s a sign that your work culture harmful and fear-based. In happy, healthy workplaces, employees feel respected and are able to approach their leaders to tap into the support and resources they need to tackle mental health issues in a healthy, productive way. If those resources aren’t accessible, employees often quit to escape the unbearable pressure and burnout. And then the cycle repeats when a new employee is hired and the core issue hasn’t been dealt with.

a toxic employer brand

An unhealthy approach to mental health has a snowball effect in workplaces. When employees don’t have the support and resources they need to address their mental health issues productively and achieve a healthy work-life balance, it affects everyone in your workplace. When someone isn’t able to perform at their optimal level, others on their team have to pick up the slack, triggering more stress and burnout all around. When this happens repeatedly, it results in higher turnover and a reputation as a toxic employer where your organization is best known for stressing out and overworking employees. Being best known for pushing employees to the brink of burnout and chewing them up and spitting them out is detrimental to your reputation as an employer.

difficulty recruiting

When your employer brand is in the dumps, it’s much more challenging to recruit talented candidates. Today’s job market is extremely competitive for employers; accessing star candidates requires a stellar employer brand that goes above and beyond. Canada has enjoyed an extended period of extremely low unemployment. Most skilled candidates are gainfully employed and have the ability to carefully weigh the value of a new job opportunity before they’re willing to jump ship. That means an attractive employer brand is critical to entice people to work for you. Young Millennial and Gen Z workers are passionate about social issues, including support for mental health, and they’re extremely tech-savvy. You can bet they’ll be checking reviews on sites such as Glassdoor and Facebook to see how former and current employees talk about your brand online. If phrases like ‘burnout,’ ‘overworked’ and ‘zero work-life balance’ pop up repeatedly, that’s a red flag.


In this day and age, it’s impossible to ignore the impact mental health has in your workplace. Employers that stick their heads in the sand are just delaying the inevitable. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, by age 40, 50% of Canadians will have dealt with a mental health issue of some kind. If you’re interested in ways you can support people who have mental health issues in your workplace, check out our article on how to address mental health at work.

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